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By Megan Brandsrud

Agape House, the Lutheran-Episcopal campus ministry at San Diego State University, started a community garden with help from an ELCA World Hunger grant. The produce is used for the campus ministry’s weekly meals and helps students learn about community and food access.

Hungry in college

Lutheran campus ministries address student poverty

Every Wednesday evening, students share a

meal and worship together at Agape House, the Lutheran-Episcopal campus ministry at San Diego State University. The meal is a long-standing tradition of fellowship, but lately it’s serving a more primal purpose. About three years ago, Darin Johnson, campus

pastor, started hearing from students at the weekly meal that they hadn’t eaten in a while and more of them started inquiring about the leftovers. In additional conversations, Johnson learned that many of the students were also homeless—though they wouldn’t use that word—and were couch surfing or sleeping in cars, storage units or even outside in canyons. “As I got to know some of these students better,

I learned that this wasn’t an isolated situation,” Johnson said. “The reality was a growing crisis of student food and housing insecurity.” Student poverty is a rarely told story and, if

anything, is often the butt of a joke that usually includes a reference to ramen noodles. The

32 MAY 2016

Hunger education There are more than 200 Lutheran Campus Ministry sites nationwide, and Don Romsa, ELCA program director for campus ministry, said about half have programs to address student poverty. “I think the number of programs providing

this assistance is growing as the problem becomes more serious,” he said. “One of the advantages that Lutheran Campus Ministry programs have is that they don’t have to go through all the ‘red tape’ that someone inside the university has to go through in establishing this kind of program.” After learning about the prevalence of student

poverty at its university, Agape House facilitated a campus meeting attended by some 300 students who had either experienced financial challenges or knew friends who were. “The stories and struggles shared led us to organize for immediate relief and systemic change of the conditions that perpetuate these situations, such as rapidly escalating tuition, fees, food and especially housing costs,” Johnson said.

general thought is that if students can afford tuition and textbooks, surely they have enough money for food, housing and life’s daily essentials. But with ever-rising tuition costs and national student loan debt at an all-time high (more than $1 trillion), student poverty isn’t a joke—it’s an American crisis, as cited by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Agape House

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